“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29
The goal of our salvation must always be kept in mind. The goal of our salvation is perfection, to be like Christ. This is why He died for us. This is why He forgives us our sins. Forgiveness of sins serves the cause of perfection by clearing away the obstacle to fellowship with God, so that the life-giving power of God can have free rein in our hearts.
I am thinking of this in the context of infidelity, which is in the news these days, though infidelity is one of the staples of human existence. If you haven’t heard the particular nonsense our culture is currently experiencing, it is that there is a web site, Ashley Madison dot com, whose whole reason for existence is to facilitate affairs for married people. Ashley Madison got hacked and their membership lists got posted online, though not yet in a form easily searchable by the masses (though that is certainly coming, no doubt). That may be the reason for the occasion of this very articulate post which is addressed to women who just found out their husbands had an affair. The post is good, but… leaves me uneasy. I’m not doing any kind of rebuttal to that post, because it is a good post. But it spurred some thoughts.
The goal of our salvation, as I said, is perfection, being like Christ. It is not for me to feel good about myself. Feeling good about myself is very often a positive detriment to the actual goal, because what is necessary for me to be like Christ is repentance. A lot of repentance, every day, throughout my life. Repentance is never fun, but it’s like going to the dentist when my tooth hurts- painful, but ultimately far better than the alternative.
The old Reformed, back in the days when precision was really valued, would talk about sinning in excess or in defect. This issue is a great example. There are realms of Christianity that tend to blame women for all kinds of things that men do, that women cause men’s lust by not dressing modestly or cause men’s infidelity by not keeping themselves up, or being submissive enough, or not being sexually available enough. Hannah Anderson’s article linked above is partly addressing that sort of thing, and does a good job of it. Everybody is always responsible for their own sin. Nobody else causes it.
Nonetheless, there is another side to it. A man and a woman become “one flesh” when they marry, and therefore it is always the case that what one does affects the other. Women are tremendously powerful creatures. Our modern feminist movement totally fails to understand the real power of women because they have rejected God’s design for the genders, and is driven by a materialist worldview which sees power only in material and physical world (since to a materialist this is all that’s real) and because women often lack the power that men have (physical, financial) they neglect to understand the very real power they do have. Humans are spiritual creatures. We are creatures called into existence by a Word, and truths, ideas, concepts lie right at the center of our existence. Man does not live by bread alone, but by words. Words can help, and words can also hurt, a great deal. Words can change our very identity. In counseling I often ask people to think about some of the most painful memories they have, and suggest that it was something someone said to them, and they always agree. On the other hand, some of the most positive memories that people have will likewise be something someone said to them. And women tend to be very good at words. Women are often very good at relationships and how they work.
We are not Gnostics. We do not exist in little bubbles unaffected by the things that people do around us. It is not possible to be so. So while a man’s sin is never the fault of the woman in his life, nonetheless women need to think carefully about the way they are affecting the men in their lives with their words. No, your immodest dress is not to blame for the sin of the man. But of course that immodest dress affects men. That’s why women dress like that, to exert power over men.
And no, a woman’s hurtful and abusive words are not to blame for a man’s affair. But of course her hurtful and abusive words affected him, for those words contain great power, and she used them that way precisely to affect him, to tear him down and make him feel like nothing. Because we are spiritual creatures, and not just physical creatures, attacks against our spirit are every bit as real as attacks against our bodies. So a man must control himself and refrain from using his often superior physical strength to abuse his wife, and a woman must control herself and refrain from using her often superior verbal power to abuse her husband.
Again, our goal is perfection, to be Christlike. He always used His power, all His power, for the good of those around Him. So when a husband cheats on his wife, he is fully to blame for that. But to say that nothing his wife has done has affected that decision is not necessarily the case. It is to pretend that our souls exist in little bubbles of Gnostic perfection unaffected by those around us, and that is unbiblical nonsense. Sometimes the wife has been as good a wife as anyone could expect. But sometimes not. If her desire is to be like Christ, then this is an opportunity to take stock, to see how she has sinned as well, to pursue her own goal of repentance and perfection. Though she has not caused his sin, she may come to realize through self-examination and prayer that she has sinned against him every bit as much as he has sinned against her. It is a terrible thing to do to avoid this opportunity for repentance and growth, as painful as it is. This is an opportunity for her to learn to use her power for good toward others, as Christ did. Women are tremendously powerful creatures, made by God in His image, and need to learn to use their power in a God-honoring way.
The sin in excess is to blame her, to say she forced him somehow to do what he did, that she is responsible for his sin. The sin in defect is to say that she bears no responsibility for her own sin, or that her own sin has no effect on him at all.
Sin is horrible. All sin is. It destroys everything good in our lives. The greatest gifts God gives us are these opportunities to confront that sin, to repent, to grow. It’s always incredibly painful. But the worst thing we can do is to deprive people of these opportunities to confront our sin, learn from it and grow. When Hannah Anderson focuses entirely on the fact that the husband’s adultery is not the fault of the wife (which is true), it feels very much to me like doing just this, of depriving her of a very real opportunity to confront her own sin and become more like Christ in the process.
Becoming more like Christ, as painful as that always is, is a far better thing than not feeling bad about yourself.